“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” begins Charles Dickens in his famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, first published in 1859. I would like to think that human nature has gravitated more toward the best of times in the more than 160 years that have passed since this date.
Pink Shirt Day in BC took place on 26 February, marked by individuals wearing pink shirts as a statement against bullying. This tradition started in 2007 after a grade 9 student in Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. In solidarity, other students started wearing similar shirts and within a few days almost the whole school was adorned in pink.
Every year on this day I sport a bright pink T-shirt with the words Be Kind Brave and Awesome screened in big white letters on the front. My patients are used to my colorful wardrobe, but most of them realize wearing a pink T-shirt in February is unusual even for me. Some patients look at me suspiciously and I can tell they want to ask about it, but they bite their tongues for whatever reason. Other patients are aware of the significance of the shirt and acknowledge this good cause. A few, like one of my elderly patients, can’t help themselves.
“Why are you wearing a pink shirt, Doctor?” she blurted out.
“It’s for antibullying day Mrs Smith,” I replied.
“Oh, I see,” she accepted.
However, at the end of the patient encounter she suddenly queried, “I don’t get it, what do you have against bowling?”*
I love the idea of a day dedicated to the fight against bullying, which I like to think we have been winning. But then a story highlighting the “worst of times” surfaced on social media and in the news. A video appeared in which an Australian boy, Quaden Bayles, who has a form of dwarfism, talks about wanting to die because of the incessant bullying he faces at school. Heartbreaking to watch, it was shared by his mother to show the anguish this negative behavior causes her son. In it she pleads for kindness in thought and action toward Quaden and others like him.
Sadness filled my heart as I thought about this boy and his struggle. It seemed like little had changed despite public campaigns and education. I remember being bullied as a youngster and on self-reflection, if I’m honest, at times I was the bully. What is it about human nature that leads to this less than admirable behavior? Thankfully, I was pulled from my dark ruminations by an outpouring of worldwide support for the young man (the best of times).
Numerous celebrities, including Hugh Jackman and comedian Brad Williams, who also has dwarfism, came out in support of the bullied boy. Apparently, Quaden loves rugby and was asked to lead an Australian all-star team out onto the field before a game. A GoFundMe page was started to send him to Disneyland, and it quickly built up to a few hundred thousand dollars. Quaden and his family, showing absolute class, declined the trip and instead plan to donate the money to anti-abuse and antibullying charities.
We can all do our part to end bullying. Physicians are still respected members of society (well at least most of you are), and through our patient interactions we can spread a message of kindness and acceptance, making stories like Quaden’s a thing of the past. I sincerely hope this won’t take 160 years.
—David R. Richardson, MD
* Who doesn’t have a problem with bowling, by the way? I mean, really, how clean are those rented shoes?
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